Social Distancing in the Woods

Today was our first proper family adventure in the new van, and it was very much needed! When I bought the van it was mainly to increase space for bigger trips, but what also got us (particularly Jen) excited was the possibilities that would open up for mini adventures – local-ish day trips where we could ride bikes, have picnics and generally explore woods and parks etc.

As getting outside in the fresh air is still being encouraged (as long as you keep away from people and do not touch anything), we loaded up the van with bikes, buggy and picnic and set off for Hicks Lodge – a beginner mountain bike centre near Ashby-de-la-Zouch, that Owen and I visited a few weeks back. We did not know if it would be empty or absolutely rammed, but pulling into the car park it seemed to be the same as normal, despite parking being free (I was planning to pay for parking online so avoid touching the machine). After getting changed we rode/walked/rolled up to the picnic spot together, even on the gravel road climb Owen was riding noticeably better than our previous visit and got some positive comments – he does look the part when he has his kit on! Lunch was a chilly affair, as it was quite windy and the air temperature has not quite matched the sunshine!

After our rushed picnic, Owen and I rode to the last few sections of the blue graded mountain bike trail, whilst Jen and Henry carried on round the walking trail. Owen struggled on the first part of the blue trail we rode, as it was uphill, just that little bit too steep for him. But once we had pushed up the worst bit he was away – the rollers and berms on this section are bigger than Owen has ridden before, but he took it in his stride! When we got to the gravel road he asked if we could ride back up again, but instead we carried on down the blue trail, on the section Owen rode (twice) on our previous visit. His confidence and bike control seem to have stepped up a notch as he was flying down the trail, instinctively catching a few wobbles when he had them and breezing over the largest roller that had stopped him previously. Watching his little legs spinning furiously on the pedals on the run in to it was so cute! Once again, when we got to the bottom of the trail, he asked if we could ride back up and do it again! What sort of mean Dad would I have been to deny him – so we rode back up the hill (non-stop) and back down the trail for more of the same!

We got back to the van just as Jen and Henry were finishing their lap of the lake trail. As I was loading the bikes up, the family parked next to us started chatting to me about the van – something that seems to happen way more often than we anything I have ever driven. As we were only a few miles from where I grew up, after Henry’s first nappy change in the back of the van, we took a detour to show Owen where I lived when I was his age. we inadvertently drove through the town centre, which I did not recognise, but the house was as I remembered it, albeit with a remodelled front garden. It did not take much longer for Owen to fall asleep in his car seat, only waking up to Henry’s crying as we waited for Jen to drop off some Mother’s Day gifts at her Mum’s house. One final stop on the way home was the garden centre – to pick up some topsoil and compost, as our outdoor activities tomorrow are going to be much closer to home – in the garden!

Both Jen and I have said how good the day was! Even without social distancing, it would have been a great day out, but with everything that is going on, getting out of the house for some fresh air and exercise was even more important! Fingers crossed that we can have more days like this in the coming weeks and months.

Babies in Sportscars – Throwback Thursday

Henry had his first ride in my MR2 today and seemed to enjoy it! It reminded me of this photo from Owen’s first ride, with the roof down!

It was a bit too cold to have the roof down with Henry today, but I am sure he will get to experience the MR2 properly soon!

For a real throwback – here is a photo of me with my Dad in his Triumph TR6!

Parental Leave II: Week 1

This first week of parental leave has felt long, but only because it has actually been eleven days! Jen also had last week off work, our third week off together in a row – it has been amazing spending all this time together! This post has ended up a lot longer than I was expecting, I guess we managed to cram a lot into our week (and a bit)…

The week (and a bit) got off to an ominous start. When I gave Henry his first nappy change of the day he weed on me, and then I had two dirty nappies to deal with by 9:00. We spent the morning hanging out at home, then in the afternoon I managed to get out for a bike ride – definitely better than being back at work on the the second of January!

One of the downsides to being off work looking after the boys, is that my friends are at work. However in these first few days of the year our friends Ali and Jaymi were off work! So after a quiet morning at home, we met them for a walk at Kingsbury Water Park. We brought Owen’s bike and he rode round the park – his confidence on the pedal bike is coming on leaps and bounds! He was standing up on his pedals and at times we had to run after him! I also got to use my new 55-200mm lens – the photo of Owen above is one of my favourite photos, and now the lock screen on my iPhone. My friend Partho needed some help fixing his bike, so after the boys were in bed I thought it would be a good excuse to take the MR2 for a spin to help him… Henry even cooperated by falling asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow, but unfortunately the MR2 did not cooperate. The battery was flat – totally my fault for neither driving it recently, nor plugging in the battery conditioner. In fact the battery was so flat that the battery conditioner would not recognise the battery. So I stayed at home and printed some photos for Owen’s pre-school homework instead.

Getting back into our regular routine, on Saturday we went to parkrun at the War Memorial Park in Coventry. Jen ran with Henry in his running buggy, so that I could concentrate on helping Owen on his bike, and as he was gaining confidence we decided to hit the skate park. Owen soon discovered that switching to a new bike was a bit of a learning curve – where he would be whizzing round the skate park on his Strider, he struggled to get up the ramps on his pedal bike. I am sure he will get the hang of it soon enough though. The boys and I have also been featured on the War Memorial Ramp Renovation campaign blog. After parkrun Jen went away for the weekend with her friends,  and I had to take Owen to a party, so my Mum and Dad came round look after Henry. I had so far managed to avoid children’s parties, so was not sure what to expect. Owen was also confused when we got there – it was a superhero themed party and all his friends were in fancy dress, so he was unsure of who was actually there! He still got stuck in on the bouncy castle though. There was an entertainer, a clown/magician, which Owen loved – he was the first to get involved with any audience participation, including volunteering to assist with plate spinning and magic tricks! After the show, the kids were allowed to play with the circus equipment, Owen made a beeline for the pedal gos and I impressed him by showing him that I could do plate spinning. Owen almost stitched me up, by telling everyone that I can juggle – which I cannot, despite learning to juggle being one of my goals for 2018 – fortunately nobody asked to see my skills. After the party food, there was more running around and bouncing on the bouncy castle – which especially after the bike ride in the morning was showing positive signs for an easy bedtime routine! Well, for Owen at least – Henry had been asleep in his cot the whole time Owen and I were out! After my failure to fix Partho’s bike the previous day, Partho and his wife Marilena, came round to see us. It was good to catch up, as they had not seen the boys for a while. Owen was keen to show off his new toys and not to be outdone, Henry busted out his best climbing up the the coffee table moves! Partho and I, with help from Owen, managed to get the cassette off his crashed wheel, so he can fit it to his indoor smart trainer – his latest tactic to attempt beating me on our annual Strava distance challenge!!! I cooked a gourmet dinner for the boys – fish fingers, chips and beans – which seemed to go down a treat! I let Henry try a bit of a fish finger, and he ended up eating all of it! Jen and I usually put one boy to bed each, swapping each night, it is a routine that works well for us, but means that solo bedtimes can be especially tricky as the boys are used to undivided attention! I got Owen to read Henry and I a story whilst Henry drank his milk, then I read them both stories after cleaning their teeth. After the stories Owen seemed much more tired than Henry and took himself off to bed, whilst I stayed with Henry, who thinks climbing up in his cot is hilarious! Owen was fast asleep well before Henry, unsurprising given his busy day!

Fortunately the boys gave me a Sunday lie in, well relatively speaking… We just had a quiet day at home waiting for Jen to come back, we had planned a trip to the woods, but by the time Owen had finished messing about Henry was asleep, so we stayed at home watching Disney films – I have been really impressed with the Disney Life subscription service, it is definitely getting more use than Netflix and it is great introducing Owen to some of the films that Jen and I watched when we were children, and of course watching the Pixar back catalogue! The downside to a relaxed day at home is that Owen woke when I went to bed and was awake for hours, yelling for his Mum and being disappointed whenever I went to see him. After three changes of pyjamas he finally went back to sleep.

Of course the disrupted sleep meant that Owen had a lie in, which always seems to happen on the odd occasion when we have somewhere to be in the morning! As it was Owen’s last day of holiday before returning to pre-school we decided to go to Birmingham to visit the Legoland Discovery Centre and the Sea Life Centre – hoping that as it was termtime they would be quiet. We made it to the Legoland Discovery Centre just before opening time, to discover that we were not the only people with that plan – there was a queue to get in! Owen loved it though – first we went on a ride, where we had to zap baddies! Next we visited “Miniland” a Lego recreation of Birmingham’s main attractions, which was particularly impressive. Then it was on to the main room, with softplay, cafe, Duplo area and Owen’s favourite the “Lego Racers: Build and Test”. Normally you cannot get Owen out of softplay, but all he wanted to do was race his car down the ramps – we started off building our own cars separately, but I ended up helping Owen to modify his and we ended up with the two fastest cars there (the key is to get the wheels locked onto the axle to avoid rubbing). Henry liked playing in the Duplo area where they had some big soft bricks in addition to the usual Duplo. Unfortunately Henry much prefers knocking things down to building them! We ended up spending well over two hours there, and I am sure Owen could have spent more! Naturally we had to exit via the gift shop, so we treated Owen a little Lego monster truck, which he has been playing with a lot, and I managed to find the elusive mountain biker Minifig! Before crossing the canal to the Sea Life Centre, we went to Ed’s Diner for lunch, the plan had been to meet Partho, but he was stuck on a conference call. Owen and I had hot dogs – Owen did really well eating his, as it was a lot of food for a little boy. Henry was being his usual self trying to steal chips – he did not seem to care that mine were covered in chilli!

The Sea Life Centre was great – Owen really liked the penguins, chatting to them through the glass. I thought this was interesting, as he has never seemed that excited by penguins when we have been to zoos previously. Henry particularly liked the clown fish (Nemos!!!) and the octopus, he was just staring at them and smiling! The boys both seemed to enjoy the 4D cinema, I sat with Owen, but Jen said that Henry was smiling and clapping along with the songs. After the 4D cinema I think Owen was getting bored of fish, as he just wanted to rush through the rest of the exhibits, so we only got a brief glimpse of the turtle and sharks in the underwater walkway. As one of the enclosures was being refurbished, in anticipation of sea otters arriving later in the year, we got a ticket for a free return visit -which I am sure we will make use of. Jen and I loved seeing the sea otters when we were in Monterey on our honeymoon! At bedtime Owen was keen to have a bath, to try out the turtle bath toy we had bought for Henry, but despite all of the excitement during the day Owen struggled to go to sleep…

While Owen struggled to go to sleep it was Henry that was waking up in the middle of the night, the only thing that would settle him was bringing him into our bed – usually he is a pretty good sleeper. With Owen back at pre-school, and Jen enjoying her last week off, Henry and I had a quiet morning at home, Henry enjoyed watching the bin men – giving them big smiles when they waved to him. In the afternoon Jen wrangled Henry, whilst I made some progress on my 2020 goals, before picking up Owen from pre-school.

On Wednesday, we all walked Owen to nursery. Then Jen, Henry and I carried on to Earlsdon, to call in at the butchers, the bike shop and to stop for coffee. We walked back via Go Outdoors, to buy Henry a bag for nursery (their £3 “Freedom trail” rucksacks are just the job) and a sledge – probably guaranteeing a snow free winter for Coventry! It was nice being able to spend the morning together. Jen’s Mum came round in the afternoon, so Jen and I were able to spend an hour tidying up the veg plot in the garden, then I managed to change the brake pads on my hardtail, bed them in and squeeze in a quick bike ride round my Earlsdon Loop before picking Owen up for Ready Steady Riders Wheelie Wednesday indoor bike training! This is Owen’s favourite bike session, but usually we cannot go, as I would need to leave work at 16:00 to get to Sutton Coldfield in time, so this is something I had been very excited about being able to do. Especially this first week as Coach Kazzi was not aware that Owen had learned to ride his pedal bike since she last saw him! Owen rode well, I found it interesting that he did not want to ride over the ramps, as he did not feel confident enough over them on his new bike – he did try a few times with Kazzi’s help though. At the end of the session Owen got his “Pedal Medal” for successfully learning to ride his pedal bike, he had a proud coach and an even prouder Dad! After all the sleep issues, and a full day at pre school on top on an hour riding his bike, I was expecting Owen to fall asleep in the car on the drive home, but he must have been so excited for riding that he stayed awake the whole way chatting to me! Whilst Owen and I were out the tiny jump start box that I had ordered to fix the MR2 was delivered.

After the success of Wheelie Wednesday, Owen asked if he could take his bike to nursery, but as he is still not fully confident at stopping, and he is getting quite fast at riding, I did not think it was a good idea. However, we agreed that he could take his balance bike – which he had not touched since getting his pedal bike at Christmas. He rode it to nursery and I had to run to keep up with him! As this was Jen’s last Thursday off work, we decided to delay swapping our swimming lessons routine, so Jen took Henry to his lesson, whilst a used my new jump start kit to revive the MR2 and take it for a long drive – I had to drop some tools off at my in-laws, so took the long way and enjoyed hooning the MR2 down some b-roads – it was good to be back in the little roadster! The drive charged the battery, so it was just down to lack of use. Jen, Henry and I spent a lazy afternoon together at home, before I went to collect Owen from pre-school – having to run all the way home to keep up with Owen!

On Friday morning I took Owen to his swimming lesson, he did really well, putting his face in the water and blowing bubbles whilst kicking his feet, and swimming round the pool floating on a woggle. After swimming we made the most of our last weekday all off together by taking Owen for lunch at his favourite restaurant – “McDonalds with the softplay”, we have to drive past at least three other McDonalds restaurants to get there, but Owen loves the softplay – and Henry is happy wherever there are chips to steal. As Henry is a bit more active than on our last visit, he got to play in the softplay too, but he was happiest stuffing his face! On the way home from lunch we ran a few errands together, then I went out in the MR2 for more errands – I was happy that the MR2 worked perfectly on my four stop trip around Coventry, proving that it was lack of use, rather than a duff battery to blame for the issues. After dinner, Owen helped me rebuild the front suspension on my radio controlled MX-5, he has been keen to drive it since seeing it in the box, and he seemed to enjoy helping me – slotting bearings into place and tightening screws. Once the boys were in bed I pushed ahead with the rebuild, sorting the rear suspension and regreasing the gearbox. Usually I would have felt like a massive geek working on a model car on a Friday night, but Jen and some of her friends were in the other room doing jigsaw puzzles…

Rather than going to parkrun or Ready Steady Riders Super Saturday, on the Saturday morning we had other plans – breakfast at Hickory’s to celebrate Partho’s birthday! He thought he would just be meeting myself, Jen and the boys, but his wife (who Partho thought was at work) and a group of his friends also turned up, including Baby Evan, who is even younger than Henry. Henry is used to being the smallest, so it was funny seeing him watching Evan, particularly when Evan was having his bottle of milk (identical to one of Henry’s bottles) – Henry looked jealous! We all had a good breakfast, followed by birthday cake, so it did not matter that it was well past lunchtime when we got home! After such an exciting morning, we just had another quiet afternoon at home.

Sunday morning is usually my time to get out on the bike, but the weather was rubbish, so I stayed at home and did a few bits on the little MX-5, in between helping Owen rebuild his Lego monster truck, which seems to shatter into loads of tiny pieces whenever it does a stunt – hours of fun for Owen, but we do need to be careful to make sure Henry does not get his hands on it! When the rain stopped, Owen and I went up to Hearsall Common to test the radio controlled car and to do some bike skills training. I packed Owen’s marker cones, to lay out tracks for both car and bikes. Owen started off doing the throttle for the radio controlled car (whilst I controlled the steering), and he did surprisingly well! There were definitely fewer crashes when Owen was in charge of the speed, than when I was driving on my own! I offered to let Owen do the steering too, but he was not interested. The car seemed to be running well, so that is phase one of the rebuild complete. The bike skills training was not quite as successful, Owen was not interested in learning to use the brakes on his bike, or to roll with his pedals level. We go through this sort of thing whenever we teach Owen to do something new, once he masters the key skill he is not interested in making any further improvements. At least I felt like my manuals were improving – I was trying to roll through a section of cones on one wheel, while Owen was meant to be rolling through without peddling! Owen was just happy riding round the course as fast as he could. When we got home, we had tea and cake, then watched Toy Story 3, with Owen dressed up as Buzz Lightyear and Henry dressed up as Woody (the photo at the top of this post). Henry did not quite last the whole film though, falling asleep half way through…

This first week (and a bit) has not really felt like I have been on parental leave, it has felt more like a holiday, as Jen was off work too. Spending time together has been great – I think we had one day of handover with parental leave for Owen, and that was only because he had a hospital appointment in Birmingham, so the extra time together as a family has been great and I would recommend any parent taking shared parental leave to consider it!

Parental Leave II

As I mentioned in my 2020 post yesterday, I will be taking nine weeks parental leave to look after Henry, when Jen finishes her maternity leave and goes back to work. Today marks the start of my nine weeks! Technically I have already had two weeks off work, but that was annual leave/bank holidays. In some ways the timing has worked well, allowing me to run it back to back with the Christmas break, but on the other hand the weather will not be as nice as when I took parental leave with Owen during April and May 2017. Bike rides and open top car adventures will be a bit trickier this time around, so here’s hoping for some unseasonably warm months!

There will be a few differences for my parental leave this time, the obvious one being that I will also have Owen to look after – although he will be at nursery three days a week. Jen has delayed her return to work by a week at the start of my parental leave, in all we will have had three weeks at home together. Unfortunately we will not be taking a week to go on holiday – having said that, I am not too sure that a week at the seaside in February would be all that appealing. Lastly, this time I will not be checking my work emails – I kept getting drawn into them last time, but this year I have told work I will be fully offline for the duration, luckily I am confident that the guys covering my role will do a good job!

Since my parental leave with Owen, I have noticed a few other Dads taking parental leave, but it is still far from the norm. So, like last time, I will be publishing weekly posts about my experience and what Henry and I have been up to. Officially my leave runs Thursday to Thursday, but I will most likely post on Sunday evenings, with a long first week! Hopefully my posts will inspire other parents to take up the option of shared parental leave!

Reading back through my posts from parental leave with Owen, as research for this post, has brought back some great memories and made me realise that Henry is more advanced than Owen. For example I wrote in the first week that Owen’s new skill was “going from lying on his belly to sitting up” – Henry has been doing this for over a month! And likewise in the ninth week I noticed Owen’s fifth tooth – Henry already has five teeth! It will be interesting to see which developmental steps Henry will take while I am looking after him – will he be walking by his first birthday?

Toptracer Golf at Whitefields Golf Club

I was invited to attend the opening day of Whitefields Golf Club‘s Toptracer driving range by Coventry Bloggers, all words and photos in this post are my own.

Whitefields Golf Club, near Rugby, have kitted out their driving range with the latest technology from Toptracer. Four cameras analyse the flight of your ball and display the data on a screen in your bay on the range. The data can also be uploaded to your Toptracer account, and back to their app on your phone, so you can compare your performance at any Toptracer equipped driving range globally.

The technology means that not only can you feel like a pro, reviewing the flightpath of your ball etc, your driving range session can become more fun with various challenges, either individually or playing against friends. Of course, if you take your golf seriously, all this data is really going to help you improve your game.

As I was a bit rusty on the driving range, not having been for a few years, I was given some help to set everything up and had a few shots in the practice mode – see the screenshot above. Then I was set up on the “closest to pin” challenge on the seventh hole at Pebble Beach – one of the few golf courses that mean anything to me, having driven around it on honeymoon. I particularly liked how the virtual target/hole could be mapped to various features on the driving range in front of me, so I had something real to aim for. I was really getting in to the swing of things (pun intended), with most of the balls going pretty much straight, although the screen showed that had I been playing at Pebble Beach, my balls would mostly have landed in the bunker, with the odd one in the Pacific Ocean!

The Toptracer technology certainly adds another dimension to the driving range experience – a standard range would definitely seem boring now. I could see it being a great evening out with the lads, especially on a warm evening – challenging each other at the golf games and making use of the facility to get drinks/snacks delivered to your bay.

The Toptracer driving range at Whitefields Golf Club, at the Draycote Hotel, is open seven days a week, and costs from £4 for 30 balls, up to £10 for 120 balls, all the Toptracer features are included and the app is available for free from the Apple/Google app stores.

Henry’s Due Date

Today was Henry’s due date, he was born a few weeks early, although not as early as Owen, so has already been on a few adventures. The first few days he stayed at home, stealing the hearts, and cuddles, of all his visitors. When he was four days old he was starting to look slightly yellow and by day five he had lost more weight than the midwives were happy with, so we were sent back to hospital. This was reminiscent of when Owen also had  jaundice and was admitted to special care. This time much easier on us, as we knew what to expect. Seeing Henry in the incubator took me right back to June 2016 and the many hours spent with Owen on the neonatal unit. Fortunately Henry responded well to the treatment and was back home within 36 hours.

As he was gaining strength we could take him out and about, to the supermarket (for a photo in the whisky aisle, like I did with Owen), to visit Nanny and Grandad in Nuneaton, (whilst Owen and I went on a bike ride with Little Rippers) and also to the garden centre/softplay to watch his big brother. While Owen was at nursery, Jen and I took Henry to register his birth, followed by lunch at Dough and Brew in Warwick – the first restaurant we had taken Owen to. Like Owen in 2016, Henry was so well behaved, letting us eat our pizzas without disruption – not something that we have experienced for a while! We also took both boys for a visit to Coventry Transport Museum, and Sprinkles Gelato for ice cream and waffles.

However the best part of my paternity leave was being able to spend time together as a family of four. My paternity leave for Owen was spent in the neonatal unit at UHCW, I had already gone back to work by the time he got out. So the bonding time at home was great. There have been lots of nappy races, where we line the boys up on their changing mats and see which parent/boy can change the nappy fastest. What was harder this time round, was not being able to devote our full attention to the new baby. Owen had been a bit poorly around the time Henry was born and I think felt like we had abandoned him a bit. So to start with he was playing up a bit, we have tried as much as possible to keep to his normal routine, but it has not been easy. Things have improved now and he seems to have accepted Henry, it is very cute when Owen says goodbye to him whenever we go out just the two of us.

Henry has also changed loads in the two and a half weeks since being born. He is now heavier than his birth weight and so much more alert. The jaundice has cleared up too. His little legs are already really strong, despite their skinniness. He loves his milk, often drinking way more than his little tummy can hold, with predictable consequences…

I am really going to miss Jen, Owen and Henry when I go back to work tomorrow. It will be especially difficult trying to fit a full work day and spending time with the boys, especially as I am doing Henry’s late feeds. I had visions of getting all sorts of jobs done during my paternity leave, life admin, servicing my bike etc, but had forgotten just how much attention a newborn needs – almost as much as a toddler!

I am still working a four day week, so will have extra time to spend with Henry and I am very much looking forward to taking some shared parental leave at the start of 2020 – it was such a rewarding experience when I did it after Owen was born. 

Ten Year Challenge

The #10yearschallenge has been all over social media the past few weeks, so I thought I would join in. I cheated a bit pushed the limit of the rules, as the 2009 photo was taken right at the end of 2009. Come to thick of it, the recent photo was taken at the back end of 2018, making it more of a nine year challenge…

The 2009 photo was taken by my Dad, we had spent Christmas in Perth, there was so much snow that the road to Glenshee was closed, so instead of going snowboarding with my brother, I went on another photo walk with Dad – we had already been out on Christmas day. The photo was one of a series my Dad took of me on Moncreiffe Island, in the middle of the River Tay in Perth, however this one is my favourite – it was the one I used on the online auction dating profile where Jen found me! I still regularly wear the blue Finisterre jacket, even if it looking a bit tired now. It is still a great jacket and I think I will be buying a new one in 2019.

The recent photo was an iPhone selfie on a local bike ride back in November. I remember the light in Tile Hill Wood was perfect, so I just had to stop for a photo! This was back before I had sorted out my MTB photography kit, but fortunately even the front camera on my iPhone 7 works well with good light.

From looking at the two photos I do not seem to have changed much, I am still have the same stubble and am messing about in the woods. However, in 2009 I was in the woods in Scotland because after travelling up there I could not go snowboarding. In 2018/9 I cannot even remember the last time I thought about snowboarding, mountain biking has well and truly taken over! Another thing that I realised has changed is that I have not been out with my Dad on a photography adventure for a long time – something that I need to address in 2019!

Pumptrack

Recently the real world seems to have got in the way of my planned bike rides. Including last weekend when I had planned a day at 417 Bikepark, but still hadn’t really got over the cold that had prevented me riding the previous weekend. This was particularly annoying as I had bought myself a full face helmet (Fox Proframe) in anticipation of the higher speeds on an uplift day. A full face helmet was possibly overkill, but I would rather not have to have my jaw wired shut for six weeks, like my best mate did after a big “over the bars” crash on my stag do! Despite my cold, I still wanted to get out for a ride. The helmet would have been a bit over the top to wear on a gentle local ride, but I thought I could get away with it at the pumptrack!

I decided to go to the pumptrack at Olton, near Solihull. I had taken Owen to ride there on his balance bike earlier in the year, and thought at the time it was a bit too big for him, but perfect for me! I had also recently watched the GMBN “How to get fit riding at the pumptrack” video, and decided that I should try to add some pumptrack sessions into my training regime.

This was my first time at the pumptrack without Owen, so I could go all out without having to keep an eye out for Owen (or anyone else, as I had the track to myself). I dropped in for my first run, pumped the downslopes, carved the berms, but still needed to put in a few pedal strokes to make it to the top of some of the hills. The lap took forty seconds, but when I checked my heart rate on my Apple Watch – it was up at 185bpm (roughly my maximum). Not bad for less than a minute of work!

After letting my heart rate drop down below 150bpm I set off again. And again, And again. I could feel my technique getting better after each lap, I wasn’t needing to pedal as much, but my legs were getting tired. Who knew that riding round in circles, without pedalling, was such hard work? After eight laps I decided to push through and round it up to ten. By then I was feeling sick – I’m not sure how much of it was down to the lingering cold, or if it was just down to how hard I had pushed myself. Whichever way, adding something new to my training certainly allowed me to get out of my comfort zone and push myself – and the thing is with pumptracks is that the faster you go the more fun it is!

French Roadtrip: Days 2 and 3 – Brittany

We woke up to rain, not ideal on holiday. After a good breakfast at the hotel in Coutances, we loaded up the car for the drive to Brittany. It was still raining. At least it was a good opportunity to test the new wipers and RainX on the windscreen of the BMW. My main niggle with the car since getting it, is that there is no intermittent setting on the wipers, only an “intelligent auto” setting. Which isn’t that intelligent. Even on the most sensitive setting it waits until you can’t see anything ahead, then wipes the screen. I found an old bottle of RainX in the garage and thought it would be worth a try. I wish I’d thought of that a few years ago, as it worked a treat! Even in the heaviest rain I could leave the wipers set to auto and I could see the road ahead clearly!

Just because I could see where I was going didn’t mean that the journey went smoothly. Our first stop was in St Malo, and we had been sent directions to the car park we were meeting everyone at. However the directions opened in Google Maps, and we find that whilst the directions are usually spot on, they aren’t communicated well. It seems to be a lottery if it tells you the road name/number to turn on to and doesn’t show the number of the exit from roundabouts. To be fair we also didn’t have the audio mix tuned, so I could barely hear the turn by turn instructions, so we took a few wrong turns. I think I’ll stick to using Apple Maps.

When we arrived in St Malo the car park that we were looking for was full, so ended up parking somewhere else anyway. It was still raining. The plan had been to have a walk around the old town, but no-one really felt like it, so we followed my Dad straight to his favourite ice cream shop – Sanchez. He seems to have a favourite ice cream shop in every town we visit! 11:00 isn’t really ideal ice cream time, but it was somewhere we could sit in the dry, and I’d heard Dad saying how good this place was for a few years,. So we had to try it out. I had a giant sundae, with coconut, white chocolate and banana ice creams. It was good, but even I struggled to eat it! The plan had been to get “galette saussice”, for lunch, but I was so full of ice cream I couldn’t face one, so shared with Owen. For those that don’t know, a “galette saucisse” is a buckwheat pancake wrapped around a sausage. It is a typical Breton street food and one of my favourite lunches in France.

From St Malo we drove an hour along the coast to St Brieuc, where fortunately the weather was better. We were staying with my Mum’s cousin Michel and his wife Collette. We saw them in the UK last year, but it is probably 25 years since I last visited them. I didn’t really remember their house, but it is lovely, with the living areas (and a massive garage, with workshop) downstairs, then the guest bedrooms upstairs. The downstairs is very modern, with each of the guest bedrooms decorated with a different theme. Jen, Owen and I were in the historically themed room, with a Louis XIV wardrobe that Michel restored in his workshop. The wardrobe was an ideal place to hide all of the breakable ornaments from Owen – as it is very much the sort of house that a two year old could cause trouble in! Michel is also a petrolhead and has a lovely classic Simca 1000, that was manufactured in the year he was born, so we did some tyre kicking. Owen liked the “old car” too.

We drove into the centre of St Brieuc for a walk around, then down to the harbour, where the Rosengart car factory used to be. We had a little walk around, looking at the boats and one of the cars made in the factory. On the way back, we stopped at the supermarket to pick up some essentials: milk for Owen, chestnut puree for me and wine for Jen! Owen was disappointed that this supermarket didn’t have a tank of live crabs/lobsters, unlike most other French supermarkets. Michel did a BBQ in the evening – french sausages and merguez (a spicy north African sausage), which was one of the foods we particularly wanted to eat on our trip – result! Michel and Collette are great hosts (they used to run bars), and we had a lovely three course meal, with the sausages/merguez as main course. Owen loved watching the sausages being cooked on the open fire, and wolfed his sausage down. Then stole some of my Mum’s merguez too! We had to break our “no iPad after dinner” rule, as toddlers and extended French meals are not an ideal combination – something I remembered from when I was a little boy. He sat happily on my Mum’s knee playing tractor/digger games whilst the grown ups chatted, mostly in French.

After his late night Owen had a short lie in, and when we got downstairs Michel had just arrived with croissants for breakfast from the local bakery – they were still warm! They were the best croissants I have ever eaten, they were so light. Nothing like the croissants you get in the UK. The bread was amazing too, and this is just from their local neighbourhood bakery. After breakfast we went to the beach at Les Rosaires, as we hadn’t really done anything aimed at Owen and digging holes at the beach is his favourite thing to do. We were there about an hour, Owen made sandcastles, paddled in the sea, explored rock pools and generally had the time of his life! However, we had to leave, as we had to fit in a three course lunch before our afternoon excursion!

Collette made us an amazing lunch – cockles, pot roast pork and raspberry panna cotta – I think they also grew/caught everything in the dinner apart from the pork and the milk! As is the way with French meals, it took a wee while, so we were late leaving for the pink granite cliffs at Ploumanach. The drive took just over an hour and Owen slept for most of it. When he woke up we were in a little seaside town that reminded Jen of Lulworth Cove in Dorset, and me of 17 Mile Drive in California. We had to carry him past the ice cream shop and the beach (“sandpit” in Owen’s words), then up the hill to the pink granite outcrops. He absolutely loved it there! Climbing on the rocks and posing for photos. I also like to think he was taking in the amazing views and wondering what geological and ocean forces were at play to form these amazing rock shapes. As the grown ups were taking their time walking back, I sat Owen on my shoulders and carried him to the beach, to do more digging in the sand. I’m not sure where he learned to do it, but he has taken to using my head like a steering wheel if I’m not walking the way he wants to go. Then if I mention it, he tries to steer me off the path or into something. He is such a cheeky little monkey!

Michel led us back the scenic route to St Brieuc, so it was already past Owen’s bed time when we got back. Collette made him egg and toast for dinner – his favourite. He had also asked for baked beans, not understanding that you don’t really get them in France. As we’d had a large lunch I was expecting a light dinner, but it was a 6 course job, including the aperitif and cheese! Aperitif (nibbles), mackerel pate, mussels, cod in white sauce, cheese and fruit salad! We were all stuffed after that. After his dinner, Owen had perked up a bit and didn’t want to go to bed, he sat quietly on his iPad, until the fruit salad came out. He took a liking to the homegrown blackcurrants, stealing them from my Mum’s bowl, then requesting more from the serving bowl! He actually stayed up later than his grandpa!

2018 Goals Update

Like last year, I thought I should do a mid year check in on my goals for 2018, mostly as it reminds me what I should be focussing on for the next six months! I was meant to write this post on the 30th June, as a mid year report, but things have been more than a little busy the last few weeks! Also with the lovely weather we have been having in Coventry, I haven’t spent much time at my computer. It is better be outside doing things, than inside writing about them!

Get my weight down to 85kg

Building on the good progress I made last year, I had a good first quarter, with my weight getting down to the high 85s, however April and May weren’t so good and my weight crept back up to where it was at the start of the year. I’m glad to say that my weight is dropping again – even after eating lots of pintxos in Spain! There’s more work to do, but I think I can get there. Something that has brought this in to focus is watching a GMBN video where the presenter wore weights to try riding at 85kg and he struggled – losing weight will be better for my riding too!

Get my fitness back to where it was in October

I feel like my fitness is actually better than it was last year already, I feel a lot stronger on the bike, even to the point where I can run errands around town without breaking a sweat. I have been following MTB Fitness on social media and getting a lot of inspiration. My Wednesday evening bike ride is usually hill repeats and I am trying to fit in either a yoga or weights session other evenings in the week.

Improve my MTB skills

I went on an MTB skills course earlier in the year, which was a good start. However I need to try and fit in some skills sessions, repeating skills such as manuals and bunny hops. Maybe as a warm up/cool down after a ride. I had been hoping to ride pump tracks more, with Owen on his balance bike, but that hasn’t happened much. In fact the only time we went to the pump track together I ended up injuring myself – which Owen is quick to remind me about!

Conquer the Tom, Dick and Harry section at Cannock Chase

I haven’t actually had the chance to ride the Monkey Trail at Cannock Chase, which includes the Tom, Dick and Harry section, this year. I am up there at the end of the month, but on a group ride with the Orange Riders group from Facebook, so I’m not sure if we will ride that particular trail. I am confident I’ll get to ride it at some point this year, and as I mentioned in my BasqueMTB post, the rock gardens won’t be a problem after that San Miguel trail!

Ride at a new trail centre

The only trail centres I’ve ridden at this year have been Cannock Chase and Llandegla. I did ride at Lady Cannings in Sheffield, but I’m not sure that can be classed as a trail centre. There was a Scotland trip with Ali on the cards, but real life seems to have put a stop to that. I’ll have to park this one until the Autumn, but I’m sure I’ll get out somewhere!

Ride more natural terrain

I can certainly check this goal off! It is probably the reason I haven’t been able to ride at a new trail centre, I have been too busy riding natural terrain! My ride at the Long Mynd with Andy kicked it off, but I don’t think you can get much more natural than the trails I rode with BasqueMTB last month – the trails were steep, rocky and narrow, more walking trails than mountain biking trails! I would still like to ride in the Peak District before the summer is out.

Do some trail maintenance

I’ve done some work on my local trails around Coventry, which I will continue to do. I also did a day with Chase Trails at Cannock Chase, working on their new Snake and Adders section. Now that I’ve done a full day with them, I’ll be making more effort to stop and lend a hand for a while when I am over there riding.

Drive the MR2 more

So far I have driven the MR2 more than last year, mostly by skipping a Sunday bike ride once a month and taking the MR2 out for a blast. I have also been using the MR2 for running errands and the occasional commute. I also managed a track session at Silverstone, however I haven’t managed a full trackday yet, mostly due to time and money – it is harder to justify such an expensive day out having cut my hours at work.

Take more photographs on my DSLR

I have been using my DSLR more, although mostly for pictures of Owen, or family days out. I’m yet to take it out on my bike. I have been taking my old compact camera, a Canon S90, out with me though. I have been meaning to do a comparison of shots from the S90 and my iPhone 7, which is still my most frequently used camera.

Mountain bike photography wise I managed to get a photo of my Orange Four into the GMBN Bike Vault, and as I have been riding more with other people I have a few photos of me riding. I did have a ride where I took my GoPro out with me and set it up to get some photos of myself. The photo at the top of this post is from that session. Maybe I’ll have to try a similar set up with my DSLR – or alternatively get more friends to ride with!

Learn to juggle

This is the goal I’m doing worst at, for the first few months of the year I was practicing most days, but it has dropped off now. Owen loves finding my juggling balls, then hiding them all over the house. Not that it is a valid excuse. Must try harder!